New VP for UA interdisciplinary research

By Andrew O'Neill
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Beginning July 1, the UA will have a new vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development, a scholar known for her extensive research projects and commitment to interdisciplinary studies.

Leslie P. Tolbert has been chosen to replace Richard C. Powell, who will retire June 30. She has been at the UA since 1987.

Tolbert is a Regents' Professor of neurobiology at the Arizona Research Laboratories. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy in the College of Medicine.

"I'm thrilled about the appointment," said Provost George Davis, UA executive vice president. "She will bring to the position a deep knowledge from her many and varied contributions to the university."

Davis said beyond Tolbert's impressive credentials, she also possesses the necessary leadership and communication skills the position requires.

He said her integrity and professionalism are widely known throughout the university.

"The UA's reputation is carried significantly under the purview of the V.P.R," Davis said.

Tolbert said one of her main goals is to increase research funding throughout the university, a task she said is difficult but doable.

She said she hopes to capitalize on the UA's strength in the area of interdisciplinary research projects.

"The problems of today are not going to be answered in traditional disciplines," Tolbert said.

Tolbert said she plans to make it a priority to increase the number of women and minorities who are pursuing advanced degrees at the UA, which she said would involve recruiting students from places often overlooked in the recruiting process.

"We need to do a better job at making women and minorities feel comfortable at the UA as they engage in scholarly pursuits," she said.

In terms of economic development, Tolbert said she wants to improve ties between the UA and local businesses.

"It's important for the university to be a part of the community," she said.

Tolbert, who was born in Boston, said her father's job in international economic development took her family all over the world, including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Washington, D.C.

For high school, she attended a boarding school in Switzerland.

Tolbert said growing up among different cultures provides her with a unique perspective on the world.

She returned to the U.S. to attend Harvard University, where she studied applied mathematics and physics.

As an undergraduate, she said she deepened her appreciation for the liberal arts by studying other subjects such as literature, philosophy and fine arts.

In her junior year, she attended a lecture by a Harvard neurobiologist, and she was instantly hooked on the subject.

She continued her studies at Harvard, earning a Ph.D. in anatomy in 1978, followed by two postdoctoral fellowships at the school.

Tolbert then spent five years as an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Georgetown University's Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

She came to the UA in 1987 where, in addition to her teaching and research activities, she has served on numerous university committees.

UA administrators said they are looking forward to working with Tolbert.

"I'm very excited about having her as the V.P.R.," said Gail Burd, associate dean of the College of Science and distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology. "She has a very good research reputation."

Burd said it is particularly helpful having a scientist in the position because scientists are generally well versed in the stringent research guidelines set forth by the federal government.

In the meantime, Tolbert said she will learn how to balance her new duties with her teaching and research projects, and that she looks forward to meeting new challenges.